ACAS produces guidance on breastfeeding in the workplace

Conciliation service, ACAS, has produced guidance on accommodating breastfeeding for employers in response to government request.

Breastfeeding can be a difficult and sensitive area for employers, however, enabling and accommodating employees who are breastfeeding to return to work can have a number of benefits. Not only may an employee consider returning to work sooner rather than later from their maternity leave, but staff loyalty can be encouraged.

Following a request from the government, ACAS have produced a guide to assist employers and employees with managing employee requests to breastfeed in the workplace. With increased evidence showing mothers returning to work before the 12 month entitlement to maternity leave has been exhausted, possibly due to economic factors, such issues as breastfeeding arrangements are arising more frequently. Employers are therefore encouraged to ensure they have up to date awareness of the provisions in this area to ensure they do not unwittingly fall foul of the law, risking harm to the employment relationship and risking unlawful sex discrimination.

At present, although there is no statutory right to time off work for breastfeeding in itself, employers are required to provide suitable facilities for a breastfeeding employee to rest, including facilities to lie down, and to provide adequate rest breaks. What counts as suitable facilities is not defined but a clean, private room for expressing milk is likely to meet the required standard. A fridge to store milk is also likely to be reasonable. The law is very clear that the Company toilets are not suitable facilities!

So, if an employer receives a request from an employee to breastfeed at work (breastfeeding includes expressing milk as well as feeding the baby), this should be properly considered to work out how best to manage this…and not just dismissed without thought. The employer may consider flexible working arrangements, or additional break periods. Naturally, a balance needs to be struck between the considerations of the employee, other employees and the interests of the business. Employers are encouraged to be pro-active and to work with the employee to reach an agreed outcome.

Employers are warned that should they refuse a woman the flexibility needed to breastfeed, the employer is risking a claim for indirect sex discrimination, unless the employer can objectively justify its position.